We look at some of the travel stories affecting journeys to, from and around France this week.
1. Heavy traffic expected as families head for or return from February breaks
Traffic conditions are expected to be “difficult” today (February 25) and tomorrow in certain regions of France as people depart for and return from their February holidays.
In the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, departing traffic will be heavy today and delays may be encountered in both directions tomorrow as families from Zone A (including Besançon, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Dijon and Lyon) return home ready for the start of school on Monday.
Conditions will also be difficult in Ile-de-France today, as the second week of the zone’s school holidays begin and people set off for winter breaks.
Government traffic service Bison Futé recommends that drivers try to get out of Paris before 14:00 today, and that they avoid the A6 motorway between Auxerre and Beaune and between Beaune and Lyon this afternoon and evening.
There may also be hold-ups on the A43 between Lyon and Chambéry.
Tomorrow, people leaving Paris should try to do so before 08:00, and those returning should get into the city by 14:00.
Sections of the A6, A39, A40, A43 and N90 – heading in both directions – will see heavy traffic between late morning and early to mid-afternoon.
2. French plane ticket price rises
The price of a plane ticket departing from a French airport and going to any destination rose 5.5% in January when compared to January last year.
The data comes from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), which also found that ticket prices had risen by 4.9% in December.
In January, domestic flight tariffs rose more than international flights, marking an increase of 6.4% as opposed to 4.5%.
Price rises will in part be down to increases in the cost of fuel, but also reflect airline efforts to adapt their services towards more eco-friendly systems and resources, which are often more expensive than traditional materials.
3. Air France unveils Nice summer routes
Air France is launching its summer schedule from Nice Airport, with four new and renewed international routes.
The airline will be offering up to five flights a week to Athens between July 9 and August 27, as well as a new service to Heraklion (Greece) running twice a week between July 8 and August 26.
There will also be two flights a week to Tunis, operating on Mondays and Fridays between July 11 and August 26.
Finally, Air France will be introducing a new London-Heathrow route providing daily flights to the UK capital between July 9 and August 28.
Air France already flies to Paris, Lille, Lyon, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Brest, Caen, Rennes and Strasbourg in the summer season.
Gulf Air has also announced a new Nice-Manama (Bahrain) route set to launch in June.
4. Unions plan further day of strike action on Paris transports
Unions representing RATP Paris public transport workers have called for another day of industry action on Friday, March 25 to protest against the pay packages proposed by the company direction.
Strikers will demand significant salary increases, just as with their first day of action on February 18, which caused widespread disruption on the Paris region network.
However, métro and RER services were not as badly affected as had been expected, with RATP estimating that less than one quarter of employees had actually gone on strike.
“If the company does not make major changes,” March 25 will be the beginning of “a long, hard period of action for public services,” said the FO union, which represents the majority of métro drivers.
Transport unions are opposing the salary increases proposed by RATP following their annual negotiations. Unions say that the general pay rise will equate to 0.4% but the company argues that in practice it would actually be 2.7% for the average worker.
5. SNCF develops plans for new Nantes-Angers-Le Mans train line
SNCF Réseau is considering the creation of a new train line between Nantes, Angers and Le Mans, one of the busiest routes on the French network which is now officially “saturated”.
Up to eight passenger trains travel the route in each direction every hour, and it is not possible to build a new track because of the nature of the rural and urban landscape surrounding the line.
SNCF is therefore searching for another way to ease the pressure currently weighing on the route.
The company will work initially to modernise the existing signalling system and eventually put a new computerised system in place.
New technology could also allow two trains to arrive on the same platform at Nantes, Angers and Sablé stations at approximately the same time. This and other alterations would help to increase traffic circulation by 25%.
“We could go from three to four TGV trains per hour each way. And we could probably add in more slots,” said Loïc Cocherel, who is in charge of SNCF Réseau construction work.
The creation of this new route infrastructure will cost €600-€700million and would be ready for service by 2030.
Beyond this date, SNCF will need to continue thinking of ways to accommodate the growing number of people using this train line, as the population of Pays-de-la-Loire creeps upwards.
The company is therefore working on a new high-speed line between Sablé-sur-Sarthe and Nantes, on which trains will be able to travel at 300km/h.
“We have looked at around 50 possible scenarios and have shortlisted four,” Mr Cocherel said. “We now need to examine the amount of time which would be saved, the socioeconomic impacts, the financial implications… We are talking about several billions of euros in investment.”
The new line, which could involve an underground route through Angers, would not become operational until 2050 at the earliest.
6. Volotea launches new Lille routes
Low cost airline Volotea has announced three new routes from Lille to Calvi (Corsica), Palma de Mallorca and Varna (Bulgaria).
Flights to Calvi will be available every Saturday between June 4 and October 8.
Palma de Mallorca services will run on Mondays between May 16 and October 3.
Finally, passengers will be able to fly to Varna on Tuesdays from May 17 to October 4.
Volotea already offers flights to Ajaccio, Bastia, Bordeaux, Cagliari, Figari, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice, Perpignan and Toulouse from Lille.
“With its network of 15 destinations and nearly 491,000 seats available in 2022, Volotea is providing extra options for travellers and is contributing to the reinforcement of access to Lille and its region,” the management of the Hauts-de-France airport said.
7. SNCF wants to install solar panels at French stations
SNCF Gares et Connexions is looking for industrial partners which would help the company to develop its plans to install 1.1 million square metres of solar panels at French stations.
This partner would be responsible for the design, the investment, the execution and the maintenance of the project.
The first panels should be installed by 2024 on top of the car parks of 156 stations, and the electricity produced would be resold to the public network.
Eventually, SNCF stations hope to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by half when compared to 2019, and consume less than the electricity produced on their land.
8. British Airways officially recognises sunflower lanyard
British Airways has become the first UK airline to recognise the ‘hidden disabilities’ sunflower lanyard, a way to indicate when a passenger may require extra assistance or support.
Passengers who have a hidden disability can wear the green and yellow lanyard to avoid having to explain why they might need some additional help or time.
Hidden disabilities are, as the term suggests, disabilities which may not be immediately obvious and can include autism, chronic pain, and learning difficulties as well as mental health conditions, mobility, speech impairments, and sensory loss such as speech, sight loss, hearing loss, or deafness. They also include chronic conditions such as diabetes and sleep disorders when these significantly impact day-to-day life.
Tom Stevens, BA director of brand and customer experience, said: “Almost half a million customers who require additional assistance fly with British Airways each year.
“We’re proud to be the first UK airline to partner with Hidden Disabilities Sunflower and are committed to doing everything we can to support customers who may need additional assistance as part of our BA Better World programme, so they can have the best possible experience when travelling with us.”